Every parent has that one trick up their sleeve that helps make life just a little simpler in the midst of a hectic school year. Try some or all of these best tips, clever tricks, and genius hacks for a better back to school.
1. Share the Daily Action Plan
Laurie Loudenback hands her kids, ages 12 and 14, a clipboard each morning which includes the day’s schedule, chores, and screen time limits. “This chart has been pretty life-changing,” says Loudenback, whose husband Scott designed it. “The first thing the kids say in the morning is ‘I need my chart.’”
» Tip: Have kids decorate their clipboards with stickers and decorative paper to make them more fun.
2. Set Up a Master Calendar
Post a whiteboard with the week’s calendar to keep everyone in the family informed about the coming week. Use color-coded dry-erase markers for each family member’s activities and cold or hot lunch preferences.
3. Spruce Up Backpacks
Extend the life of a much-loved backpack by giving it a back-to-school cleaning. Depending on the material, backpacks can generally be hand washed, spot cleaned, or placed in a laundry bag or pillow case and run through the washing machine.
- Be sure to empty out all of the pockets and vacuum out crumbs before washing.
- If you hand wash it, soak it in warm water for 15 minutes with a teaspoon of laundry detergent.
- Rinse well and air dry.
4. Plan Your Meals
Steer clear of the drive-thru on hectic evenings by taking 10 minutes each weekend to plan simple meals for the week. With a complete grocery list in hand, head to the store to purchase everything you’ll need. To further simplify planning, Gina Nichols, a mom of four, recommends prepping food when you get home from the store, filing favorite recipes for easy reference and maintaining a well-stocked pantry. Theme nights like pasta on Mondays, tacos on Tuesday, etc., can also help. Ask your family for their suggestions, too.
5. Schedule Grocery Delivery
More grocery stores now offer online ordering and delivery services, helpful for families who dislike grocery shopping or struggle to stick to a budget when walking the aisles at the store.
6. Establish a Snack and Brown Bag Lunch Station
Designate a shelf in your kitchen or pantry for parent-approved snacks and lunch items. Tape a list inside the cupboard door with lunch ideas. On Sundays, prepack snacks that kids can easily grab like trail mix, pretzels, granola bars, or cereal. Stock the refrigerator with fruits and veggies that have been prewashed and cut, as well as cheese and yogurt sticks. To save time in the morning, help your children make their lunches and pack their snacks the night before.
7. Stock the Freezer
Stash your freezer with healthy casseroles, soups, sauces, and slow cooker meals to make dinnertime a no-brainer on busy weeknights. “Try to make your cooking always do double duty. Make a little extra of everything and if you don’t want it right away, freeze it,” Nichols says.
1 Meat, 3 Meals
Stretch your meal prep. Prepare a large batch of meat for the week that works in multiple dishes. Try these ideas:
- Add to quesadillas
- Assemble a rice bowl
- Squeeze on barbecue sauce and put on a bun
- Fill a taco
- Make Thai lettuce cups
- “Beef up” spaghetti
- Make a toasted hoagie with melted cheese
- Toss on a salad
- Add it to stir-fry
8. Manage Paperwork
Every day after school, Sanchez says, her family has a mandatory “empty your book bag” rule. Her children file important documents like those that need to be signed by a parent into an office divider. Label a folder with the name of your child and school year to easily collect artwork and other keepsakes throughout the year. Sanchez keeps her folders in a plastic file box.
9. Create a Homework Station
Designate a well-lit place in your home where homework can be completed without distractions. Create a homework caddy stocked with notebook paper, pens, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, rulers, and highlighters—anything your child might need to complete an assignment.
10. Make a Homework Plan
If your child struggles with organization, go through their backpack together. Make a stack for the night’s homework and help your child prioritize what needs to be completed first. Use a calendar to help them plan long-term assignments.
11. Hold Family Meetings
Alexis Sanchez, mom of four, says she gathers her family on Sunday nights to discuss the week ahead, including upcoming activities, and “to brainstorm any kinks” that need to be worked out in the schedule.
Make Your Family Meeting Productive
- Pick a date and commit to it. Is everyone usually home on Sunday evening? Get it on the calendar. If you start moving it around or postponing, no one will take it seriously and it will fizzle out.
- Have an agenda. Post a piece of paper on the fridge where family members can add topics for the agenda throughout the week.
- Set ground rules. No phones allowed. No interrupting, No eye-rolling. Establish the rules at the first meeting and remind everyone as needed.
- Manage conflict. Model healthy ways to deal with emotions that may arise during meetings. Don’t allow meetings to become out-of-control gripe sessions.
12. Connect in a Memorable Way
Be ready to meet a few new parents at back-to-school functions who you’ll want to reconnect with later. Mom of two Kristal Ronnebaum suggests handing out a family calling card. “It’s a method of sharing your contact information in a fun and creative way,” Ronnebaum says. You can also hand the card to babysitters, carpool drivers, and new neighbors (attached to a small housewarming gift).
» Tip: Share your contact information and a kind first-day gift with a new teacher. Attach your family calling card to a cheerful water bottle.
13. Attend Back-to-School Functions
Help your child get back into the school groove by attending school orientations, ice cream socials, and sneak-a-peeks, or plan your own park day with several classmates you already know. “Even reconnecting with one or two friends or meeting a teacher in person before the first day of school can make a difference to a child,” Dawkins says.
14. Use a Timer
If your child gets overwhelmed by lengthy math worksheets or other difficult assignments, try using a timer like the Time Timer app and set a goal. For example, after he completes 10 problems, take a break for a quick snack. “Frequent breaks are important in helping students and their parents with homework,” says Amber Dawkins, a former teacher and a mom to a six-year-old son.
15. Encourage Rest
A successful school year requires quality sleep. “Start edging those bedtimes back a week or two in advance of school starting,” Dawkins says. Maintain a regular evening routine that helps your child unwind before bed, such as a warm bath or shower and reading time. Also, build unstructured time into your child’s weekly schedule for playing with friends and pursuing creative endeavors.